Are The National Democrats Imitating House Of Cards Or Is House Of Cards Imitating The National Democrats?
I've nearly finished watching all of Season 3 of House of Cards. No spoilers' alert here; I'm not going to give away surprises. I keep asking myself-- and my fellow House of Cards fans-- why we like Frank and Claire Underwood. Apart from the fact they they are dangerous psychopaths-- and let's not forget that Frank is a cold-blooded murderer and that Claire is an accomplice-- there's the substance behind the his politics. I hate everything about his politics. Frank Underwood is the kind of fake Democrat-- a South Carolina Blue Dog or New Dem-- we are always railing against here at DWT. The center of his political raison d'être is America Works-- AmWorks-- a jobs program which seeks to tar Social Security and Medicare as entitlements and gut both. This week, the (real-life) Washington Post went so far as to actually ask if America Works could actual work.
There aren't too many details about the program. (Yes, this is a TV show and details on policy proposals are sparse.)RJ Eskow went even further at HuffPo the day before. "Who knew," he asks, "that the show itself-- not the characters, but the show-- had a hidden agenda? Eschew blames one of the show's consultants-- no, not President Clinton-- Third Way co-founder Jim Kessler.
Here's what we do know about AmWorks:
1. Unemployed people register with the government to receive a job.
2. New jobs are created by the government in infrastructure, maintenance, repair, defense...
3. ...and through the private sector, which can receive up to $45,000 from the government to go towards salaries for each new position created.
4. The costs are covered by cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
5. It's expected to cost $500 billion.
6. It's expected to create 10 million jobs.
...I spoke with Stan Veuger, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, about how AmWorks would play out in reality. Basically, not very well, he said.
"Socialist countries typically have something like that," he said.
AmWorks would be "similar to raising the minimum wage to stratospheric levels," Veuger added, noting that such a move would lead to "wage-driven inflation." Paying for the program out of entitlements could also push people out of Social Security and back into the workforce. "I think overall, it's a terrible idea," he concluded.
Whether or not the 50,000 jobs created by AmWorks' limited run in the District of Columbia will convince the voters in Underwood's America otherwise will be a question for House of Cards season 4.
It's already taken on teachers. Now comes the anti-"entitlement" tirade from Frank Underwood in Episode One of the new season. Frank, despite his evil ways and means, has an ambitious dream, which is introduced during a lengthy scene in which he lectures his staff, and the audience, on some highly misleading "facts."Whether you watch House of Cards or not, you should be aware of where this danger lies in the real world. And in the U.S. Congress that would be the New Dems and the Establishment careerists. Yesterday Chris Van Hollen, one of the architects of Simpson-Bowles (which would have cut benefits for seniors under Social Security and Medicare) declared he's running for the U.S. Senate. I guarantee you, he won't be running around Maryland telling voters they are entitled to nothing and bragging about his work on Simpson-Bowles. Basically the New Dems are garden variety Republicans who-- for one reason or another-- have wound up inside the Democratic Party. They consistently vote with the GOP and consistently work to worm their way into positions of power and influence. Several of the worst New Dems-- Maryland's John Delaney, Illinois' Bill Foster, and Florida's Patrick Murphy, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Gwen Graham-- are looking to move up into the U.S. Senate. Yesterday, Nancy Pelosi cheered on these Frank Underwood types within her own caucus when they introduced their nausea-inducing, very coded agenda-- an agenda conspicuously devoid of any vision for ordinary working families or for labor. New Dems believe that the strengths of the United States come from technology, capital markets, and the military. They believe that the U.S. projects power and stability by promoting our multinationals and by ensuring that the dollar is the global currency, rather than just the U.S. currency, and they see organized labor and small businesses as problematic potential obstacles to this projection of power. They try hiding this in coded language so voters identify them as Democrats. It even worked on Pelosi:
How did that happen? How did the "AmericaWorks" fictional plot point come to be built on real-world lies?
Here's a clue: Episode One's credits list Jim Kessler as a consultant. Kessler is, as his IMDB biography notes, the co-founder of Third Way. That's a Wall Street-funded, so-called "centrist" Democratic organization with a mission: to promote neoliberal economics and make the world safe (at least financially) for its wealthy patrons.
Third Way has consistently misrepresented the financial condition of Social Security, misdirected the public debate about Medicare, and generally promoted the socially liberal but fiscally conservative worldview of its patrons.
Kessler and co-founder Jon Cowan carefully tiptoed their way through the minefield of public opinion for years, pretending to be technocrats rather than de facto lobbyists for powerful interests. They finally lost their balance last year. When confronted with the rise of Elizabeth Warren and the populist wing of the Democratic Party, they lashed out at Sen. Warren with an intemperate Wall Street Journal op-ed.
Frank's a Democrat, like all Third Way members, and his rant is filled with exactly the kind of misinformation and manipulation that we've come to expect from that corporatist crowd. "Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, every entitlement program that is sucking us dry," says Underwood in his rant, "I want it on the table... "Entitlements are bankrupting us," he concludes.
Except that they're not. Social Security accounts for 24 percent of the Federal budget, but it is forbidden by law from adding to the overall deficit. What's more, its trust fund is currently holding $2.8 trillion dollars in reserves. The statement is meaningless.
Then Frank says his chief of staff has conducted a poll in which seventy-four percent of voters said they agreed with this statement: "Doing what's best for my country means doing some things that I don't like."
"Now, what does that tell us?" Underwood asks. "We have to do the things that people won't like. And even when we do, three out of four of them will go along with us."
This is exactly the kind of poll the real-life corporate crowd loves to conduct-- so general as to be meaningless. When asked specific questions, most voters-- including Republicans, Dems, and independents-- don't want cuts to Social Security or Medicare. 76 percent of self-described Tea Party members objected in one poll. And they'll punish any politician who tries.
Voters want millionaires and billionaires to pay the same payroll tax rate as other Americans (the tax is currently capped at approximately $118,500 per year of income). They want Social Security's benefits increased, which makes sense, since retirement benefits have been decimated in this country and our benefits don't fare well when compared to those of other industrialized nations. And they're willing to step up and pay for these increases with higher taxes, according to a poll from the National Academy for Social Insurance.
That's more than the Third Way's financiers are willing to do.
The Third Way crowd loves to present itself as young, bold, and visionary, and their opponents as "special interests." House of Cards sticks to this script by employing an aging political apparatchik as the voice of liberalism.
"The programs that you want to scale back or dismantle are the bedrock of the American dream," says the gray-haired, soft-hearted cliché. "You work hard, you pay your taxes--"
Underwood interrupts. "No, I'm sorry, they were the bedrock of the American dream. But they're not anymore. Certainly not for the ten million people who are out of work."
In Episode Two, Underwood gives a "bold" speech outlining his plan. It begins:
For too long, we in Washington have been lying to you. We say we're here to serve you, when in fact, we're serving ourselves. And why? We are driven by our own desire to get reelected ...That's another favored trope: that the corporate politicians are courageous (as if it's brave to serve the wealthy and powerful!), while their opponents are cravenly pandering to the voters-- by representing them.
"That ends tonight," says Underwood. "Tonight, I give you the truth."
There's that idea again, that the corporate version of reality is "fact" or "truth." We're told that "the root of the problem" is "entitlements"-- a favorite word in the corporate crowd because it has negative connotations.
"Let me be clear," adds Underwood. "You are entitled to nothing ... " Just like real-life Third Way types, Underwood is trying to cancel our nation's social contract.
At least Underwood wants to use the money to create jobs, which is more than most corporate Dems are willing to do. That's a little disturbing: Real-life Third Wayers seem less responsive to the public than a fictional sociopath.
“The New Democrats are a strong entrepreneurial voice within our Caucus, bringing innovation and energy to House Democrats’ work to create prosperity for every American family.
“Today, the New Democrats have released a bold plan for the future of our country, the American Prosperity Agenda. Economic growth, equality of opportunity, and a government that works for middle class families-- these principles are at the heart of our shared mission as Democrats.
“Only by laying a firm foundation for growth, based on ambitious goals for our future, can we secure a vibrant middle class and keep American number one. Together, Democrats will continue to work to reignite the American Dream and step into a new era of prosperity for every American family.”